(Readers: Please note the blog about the 5th revolution in the US is constructed as a story. While not all chapters are linked, I think the story will be more meaningful by starting at the beginning.)

Scene: POTUS Office, who called Jordan about plans for rebuilding neighborhoods in Detroit

POTUS:  “Jordan, thanks for coming by. Appreciate you changing your schedule.”

white-house-clip-art1Jordan: “Mr. President my schedule is much more flexible than yours.’

POTUS:  “I understand you have a proposal to help rebuild Detroit. And I understand the central theme is ‘Rebuilding the Heartbeat of America.’ I like the theme even if you did steal it from an old Chevrolet ad campaign.”

heartbeat-of-americalogoJordan: “I’m sure Chevy won’t mind. Besides the program will be good PR for them.”

POTUS:  “Tell me more about the plan. How are we going to make this work?”

Jordan: “Glad you emphasized the word we. The problems Detroit is facing are much more widespread than Detroit. And the solutions need to include more groups than just in Detroit.”

POTUS:  “Part of the problem is having the US populous understand the solution is not just Detroit. Detroit and the solution are really national issues.”

Jordan: “I agree but I am not certain how many people outside southeast Michigan understand that.”

POTUS:  “You’re right. For right now, let’s stick with plans for Detroit. So, tell me Jordan, old wise man, how are you going to make this work?”

Jordan: “Detroit has a strategic plan…more of a framework than a real plan. But the idea is to rebuild employment, improve housing, and make the city more livable by expanding parks and some ancillary programs that reinforce the core efforts. What the plan lacks is specifics.”

POTUS:  “You think Heartbeat of America will work with the general plan?”

Jordan: “Yes. Detroit’s strategic plan could become the model for many cities. The Heartbeat program provides a rallying cry and begins to put meat on the bones.”

POTUS: “Good. My experience, and I think yours as well, is that most people need details and examples, not an abstract general plan. What have you got? Let’s start with housing.”

Jordan: “If you think outside the box, some of Detroit’s biggest problems can become a major asset.”

POTUS: “Jordan, I agree but you sound like some politician.”

Jordan: “It’s really true. For one there is a lot of open land. Two there are many industrial buildings currently unoccupied but in reasonable shape. And many of the larger building could be turned into housing.”

POTUS: “Is converting an industrial building to residential housing practical? Seems like a lot of work and expense.”

Jordan: “Depends on how you approach rehabbing the building. If you think about the building as a shell with just a roof and a floor, then a number of options become available.”

POTUS: “What do you mean?”

Jordan: “Take an old assembly plant. Trying to build apartments using the existing interior space would be difficult and expensive. Using the space to house a module for living or a module for an office changes the equation.”

POTUS: “How so?”

Jordan: “You’ve seen Russian dolls, where one doll fits inside another.”

Russian DollsPOTUS: “I’ve seen a lot of Russian dolls. But different kind. But I got the picture.”

Jordan: “The building is the outside doll. Then the next doll is a fixed space within the building. Then the next doll fits inside the fixed space. The point is one fits inside the other.”

POTUS: “So the smaller doll can fit inside even if the larger doll has some bumps and imperfections. You want to use most of the space but do not have to use all the space.”

Jordan: “Exactly. You can make different size dolls and different looking dolls. The point is that one fits inside another.”

POTUS: “Where do you build the units?”

Jordan: “Units can be built in a factory and delivered as a nearly completed modules or built as partially assembled units with final assembly on site.”

POTUS: “Which approach is better, or does it matter?”

Jordan: “Quality with factory built probably slightly better. The real issue is constraints of the building. The design concept needs to be flexible enough to allow conversion of as many buildings as possible to residential or attractive offices.”

POTUS: “I agree. Don’t limit the opportunity to convert many older buildings. The structures are usually sound and the buildings help keep the character of Detroit…or whatever city.”

Jordan: “Glad to hear you support linking the future to the past, at least in some regard.”

POTUS: “I am no architect, but what I do know is a very high percentage of people like the look and feel of older buildings. But the same buildings need to have up-to-date wiring, plumbing and other conveniences.

Jordan: “The design allows upgrades over time as well so the unit can be up-to-date 50 years from now.”

POTUS: “Great. I have another question. Are you really talking about modular housing?”

Jordan: “Yes, sort of. I know modular has such a negative connotation. But in a way it is higher tech. Skyscrapers are being built using modular construction. Look at this YouTube video, Skyscraper in 15 Days.”

POTUS: “Wow, that’s impressive. When I hear the word modular, even after watching the video, I think double-wide.”

Jordan: “The irony is quality of factory-built housing is superior to traditional stick-build. However, even if people understand if modular has superior quality, there is a negative connotation to modular.”

POTUS: “Reminds me of the problem we have in this country with public transportation. Higher income, highly educated people have no problem whatsoever taking a train. But a bus? Not a chance. Even if the bus is faster and cheaper, ridership is not the same as a train. A train is OK but not a bus.”

Jordan: “I confess, I fall in that category. I will take almost any train and avoid almost any bus.”

POTUS: “So you are the problem!”

Jordan: “I have a lot of company. Seriously, to begin overcoming the negative perception of modular housing, we need a few showpieces constructed using modular. And Detroit would be a good place to start.”

POTUS: “Have you got a target in mind?”

Jordan: “Yes, an auto plant that is currently unoccupied. The plant has a lot of history and is interesting architecturally.”

POTUS: “Any major problems?”

Jordan: “Building is generally sound. Couple of structural repairs. There are some environmental remediation issues. All solvable based on what we know now.”

POTUS: “There is a super fund that should pay for most remediation costs, especially if the building can be converted to a livable site. What other problems?”

Jordan: “The project seems to dovetail nicely with the strategic plan adopted by the City of Detroit. The project could be a showpiece for the City…but it needs support both in concept and financially.”

POTUS: “Is the general approach adaptable to other sites, or is this just a one-off, thank you very much program?”

Jordan: “Highly adaptable to different building configurations and interior spaces. The approach will work throughout southeast Michigan – Detroit, Pontiac, Flint, Lansing and points in between. It will also work in virtually any other US city…and worldwide.”

POTUS: “Now we’re talking. Give me three major selling points. I’ll make some phone calls for you.”

Jordan: “Three key points: (i) rehab will be the foundation for neighborhood redevelopment without changing neighborhood character (ii) rehab creates local employment, including suppliers (iii) rehab design can link to and complements other neighborhood efforts.”

POTUS: “Here’s the deal. I call three people: (i) head of HUD (ii) senior senator from Michigan (iii) senior representative from SE Michigan. You meet with each of them and get reaction to the proposal. If they support, we proceed. If not, you are on your own.”

Jordan: “Thanks. I owe you one.”

POTUS: “I’ll keep that in mind. You’ve helped me. Glad I could return the favor. Rehabbing cities is a big problem and a long-term problem. Whoever is in office is going to need lots of help.”